MEDFORD >> For as long as there’s been a summer camp here at YMCA of the Pines, there’s been the “Ocky bowl” – the amphitheater seating and stage area, just outside the Ockanickon dining hall; it’s been the central gathering place for thousands of campers over many decades.
For years, the iconic bowl has been a multi-leveled semi-circle arena, consisting of packed soil flooring and narrow railroad tie bench seats. At the lowest level, there’s a main stage pavilion. It’s where campers from both boys sleepaway camp Ockanickon and Lake Stockwell Day Camp meet on a daily basis for a variety of activities all throughout the summer months.
The Stockwell day campers perform songs and skits and enjoy their afternoon snack time at the bowl. The Ockanickon sleepaway campers hold gatherings, staff meetings and flag ceremonies there. (The girls sleepaway camp, Matollionequay, is on a separate part of the property and has its own amphitheater.)
“The bowl is a great gathering place,” said Lynn Passarella, director of Lake Stockwell. “Everyone who visits our property knows where the bowl is.”
In recent years, the Ocky bowl has been showing a bit of wear and tear, according to Andy Smith, the director of building and grounds at YMCA of the Pines. “Our capital vision is to put a new face on camp, and we’re starting at the most visible places.”
According to Smith, the refurbishing project consists of resurfacing the benches, adding brick pavers and gravel flooring, and grading and seeding the surrounding lawn area in front of the dining hall. “It will be a much-needed improvement to this highly visible and popular gathering space on the property.”
Smith, who lives in the Chadds Ford, Pa. area with his wife, Kim, has been with YMCA of the Pines for the past year. Prior to joining the Medford nonprofit, he was the senior program director in charge of aquatics at the Kennett Area YMCA in Pa. He also worked at the Western Family YMCA in Newark, Del. Before that, he worked in construction, including a stint at house-flipping, before the economy took a downturn about 10 years ago.
“In 2010, I took my first ‘Y’ job because I needed insurance for my family,” said Smith, the father of five children ranging in age from 14 to 23. “I thought it would be a temporary move, until I could find something better. But eventually, I fell in love with the mission of what the YMCA does.”
He recalled a time when a pool lift was out of commission at the facility YMCA where he worked. After observing a customer who was upset that she couldn’t get in the pool, he took off his boots and went into the water, fully clothed, in order to help the woman into the pool so she could take part in a class that helped ease her arthritic pain. “I realized then that the job I was doing was more than just running a facility – it was helping other people, and that really resonated with me. Working at the Y has made me a better listener, too.”
He also appreciates that YMCAs offer scholarships to people who can’t afford to pay. “You don’t know who gets financial aid at the Y; everyone is welcome and treated the same.” YMCA of the Pines gives away over $600,000 in financial aid each year.
Smith said he couldn’t be happier now that he’s in charge of building and grounds at YMCA of the Pines in Medford. “Sure, I’m responsible for the upkeep of 130 buildings, two lakes and 800 acres, but I feel like my job is to make life better for the campers, visitors and my co-workers,” he said. “Mentoring young people, helping them solve problems, that’s what I like to do.”
Being out in the woods, surrounded by hiking trails and lakes is also a nice perk of the job. “I made a choice when I came here; I didn’t want to sit at a desk running reports,” Smith said. “I spend most of my day seeing that the various directors have what they need to run quality programs. The biggest thing we do in the building and grounds department is asset preservation and maintenance.”
After the bowl project is completed, Smith said he has a long list of improvements to be completed at the 113-year-old camp. “We need to take everything we do to the next level. It’s a beautiful place and our goal is to keep everything running smoothly and looking good.”
YMCA of the Pines is located at 1303 Stokes Road in Medford. Besides summer camp, the organization offers retreats, family programs, school-age childcare and annual memberships to the property. The bowl project is expected to be completed by the start of summer camp season, which starts in June. For more information, reach out to email@example.com or visit www.ycamp.org.